Feature: Richard Alston - seeing the music

Wednesday 21 January 2015 by Carmel Smith

Richard Alston. Photo: Ida Zenner

Richard Alston is a key figure in British contemporary dance. He was one of the first students at London Contemporary Dance School in the late 1960s and founded the country’s first independent dance company, Strider, in 1972. In 1980 he went on to become Rambert’s resident choreographer and later Artistic Director (he made the decision to drop ‘Ballet’ from the company’s name), before forming his own company at The Place in 1994. Over his 45 year career in dance Alston has developed a choreographic style which is intrisincally linked with music. The company are celebrating their 20th anniversary next week with a special programme at Sadler’s Wells – and as a preview, we’ve been dipping in to the archive of the work he’s made -and the wide range of music which has inspired him…

Part of the programme at Sadler’s Wells next week, Alston’s inspiratoin is Benjamin Britten’s joyous setting of the words of poet Christopher Smart.

Music: Benjamin Britten – Rejoice in the Lamb Op. 30
“Why dance to Britten? The simple answer is that his music breathes. It rises and falls, often with the voice, in lucid phrases that have a palpable sense of physical movement.” (Read more in the Guardian, Oct 2103)

2012 – MADCAP
Also at Sadler’s Wells next week is this work by Martin Lawrance, a long-time company dancer whose work has also been part of their repertoire since 2010. “Martin’s development as a choreographer is something that’s happened organically within the company,” says Alston

Music: Julia Wolfe (performed by Bang on a Can All-Stars)
“Julia Wolfe’s Lick and Believing are possibly two of the most challenging pieces I have ever tackled. Both are fast, frantic and terrifically exciting. Believing made me want to see dancers scuttle and scurry throug the space, wildly, heedlessly impulsive. But Lick felt much darker, more intense with musical passages of violence.” Martin Lawrance. ( More www.richardalstondance.com )


Music: Mozart’s K533 and Federico Busoni’s Giga Bolero e Variazione
“Mozart composed his K533 late in his short life, only four years before he died. There are two sublime and profoundly beautiful moments … [but] desparate for money, Mozart rushed these off to his publisher, hastily attaching a Rondo he’d written one year earlier. For Unfinished Business I’ve chosen instead to conclude with the succint Gigue in D, an unabashed homage by Mozart to Bach in an extraordinary arrangement by Federico Busoni.” (From alstonstudio.com)


Music: Scott Joplin
“The underlying rhythm is so feisty but the detail is so elegant. I think that’s a wonderful mix” ( londondance.com Q&A )


Music: Terry Riley’s Keyboard Study #1
“It’s challenging music, I admit, quite purist in its persistent progress, but I find it really exhilarating and that’s what Overdrive tries to convey; if the dancers fly, then together we’ve hopefully made that work” (See more at: www.richardalstondance.com/overdrive)

1999– ROUGHCUT (First performed by Rambert in 1990)

Music: Steve Reich New York Counterpoint (1985) and Electric Counterpoint (1987)
“There’s always that component [of wanting to instinctively move] to the music I choose. When I heard Electric Counterpoint, I thought ‘you can’t sit still to this’ and that gut reaction is the beginning of everything…it has to be there.”
“Dance is quite an instinctive activity and I’m very taken with and obsessed with the spontaneity of dance…I want it to look always as if they’ve just heard the music and it makes them want to do ‘this’. So they’re flying around. It’s calledRoughcut because it’s not particularly cleaned up and ordered; it springs along. I think of that music as a kind of multi-layered trampoline, this wonderful lively bouncy surface that they can jump through and turn and leap- all the things that I like dancers to do.” (From an interview with Radio 3, In Tune, 2012. More on www.thealstonstudio.com )

1998 – RED RUN

Music: Heiner Goebbels
“Goebbels’ Red Run is powerful music, evoking a terrain of shadows and anxiety… The music comes from many sources, a bit like a trip round the world in music…. For me it conjures up some huge, great mysterious landscape. Harsh, sometimes aggressive, bursts of upbeat jazz rhythm, which can be really edgy and punchy, get repeatedly pushed aside by a sense of foreboding or by keening lament.”

1996 – ILLUMINATIONS (formerly RUMOURS, VISIONS ) (first performed by London Contemporary Dance School 1993)

Music: Benjamin Britten’s Les Illuminations
“I choreographed the role of Rimbaud, whose poetry the song cycle sets, on a young student, Arthur Pita, now an increasingly successful choreographer himself. I can be totally inspired by the untried talent of a young dancer and I can still remember how exciting it was to work with Arthur, who captured all the confusion and yet confidence of the very young.” (Read more in the Guardian, Oct 2103)

Richard Alston Dance Company’s 20th Birthday celebratory programme — Rejoice in the Lamb, Burning, Nomadic, Madcap is at Sadler’s Wells on Monday 26 & Tuesday 27 January

Photo: Ida Zenner

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